Northeastern Illinois University earns journalism grant to highlight stories of undocumented students, allies
Northeastern Illinois University is one of 10 institutions nationwide to be awarded a $35,000 grant from the Online News Association’s Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. Northeastern’s project, “DACAmentation: Humanizing Our Stories,” aims to break myths about undocumented students and shed light on the challenges they face in the United States.
The project is scheduled to include six podcasts in collaboration with Spanish Public Radio and two town hall meetings, which will be open to the public.
The first town hall will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 in Alumni Hall on the Main Campus. Panelists include Tanya Cabrera, associate director for equity and inclusion at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Maureen Fitzpatrick, associate vice chancellor of adult education at City Colleges of Chicago; Miguel Angel Saucedo, director of strategic partnerships and special populations for Chicago Public Schools; and Joseph Saucedo, assistant director of student diversity and multicultural affairs at Loyola University Chicago.
“It’s really powerful,” said Edie Rubinowitz, an associate professor in the Department of Communication, Media and Theatre (CMT) who applied for the grant because she recognized that undocumented students needed a voice in higher education and the media. “It’s hard to get to class on time and do the work you need to do if you’re feeling like you shouldn’t be here at all. This idea of change, that we actually can make a change by making our voices heard, that’s part of the goal.”
The podcasts are recorded and air in Spanish. Organizers hope to provide English transcriptions of the podcasts at a later date. The town hall meetings will be conducted in English with Spanish translations.
The first episode of the podcast featured Luvia Moreno, Northeastern’s director of Undocumented Student Resources and interim director of the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs. She discussed the terms “Dreamer” and “DACA,” what Northeastern does to support undocumented students, and some of the issues undocumented students face.
“Northeastern is ahead of the game in terms of support for undocumented students in the state of Illinois and, I would say, in the Midwest, because I think we are one of the only institutions that provide scholarship support,” Moreno said. “All of our talent, merit and foundation scholarships are open to undocumented students.”
Other episodes of the podcast are slated to talk about LGBTQA DACA recipients, how to be an ally and high school “Dreamers” clubs.
Seven former or current Northeastern students of various majors dedicate four to five hours a week on the project.
Fernando Moreno, a Northeastern student working on his Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, also happens to be the chief operations officer for Spanish Public Radio. Fernando (no relation to Luvia) first arrived at Northeastern in 2002 as an undocumented student. Once on campus, he began to work with other undocumented students to challenge the ways they were being viewed.
“There are some ‘Dreamers’ who qualify for DACA but don’t apply because they don’t want to be put in the spot of what happens when DACA ends,” Fernando said. “I graduated high school in 2001. Even before then there were students mobilizing, trying to talk with legislators about, ‘What’s happening to the good students? We’re not criminals. We were brought here, some of us at weeks old, and this is the only place we call home.’ They don’t know anybody in their country. They don’t know the language sometimes. Back in those days, the term ‘illegal alien’ was used. We started to change the language. Nobody is illegal. No human is illegal. They’re just undocumented.”
Luvia added that one of the biggest misconceptions about immigration is that becoming a citizen is easy.
“There’s no path to citizenship right now,” Luvia said. “One of the only ways to become a permanent resident or U.S. citizen is through marriage, and even that is very hard. It’s not something that we advise our students to do.”
Monzerrath Gaytan (B.A. ’18 CMT) will share her story in the second episode of “DACAmentation” scheduled to air on Nov. 30. She was also an interviewer in the podcast’s first episode.
“I strongly believe that by putting my story in this podcast, other undocumented students might be able to envision themselves in college,” Gaytan said. “More than anything, I want future generations of undocumented students to understand that college is a possibility and there's resources that they can use to be successful.”
Rubinowitz is optimistic that, eventually, Spanish Public Radio will be able to set up a studio at Northeastern’s El Centro location. For now, Gaytan’s goal is just to raise awareness of undocumented students through open and honest discussions captured in the podcast episodes.
“I hope this podcast brings awareness of the difficult situation undocumented students are in,” Gaytan said. “Most importantly, I want people to understand that they are more than the stereotypes we have been hearing in the media.”
The Challenge Fund is a partnership between the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Democracy Fund, Rita Allen Foundation, The Scripps Howard Foundation and Online News Association.
There are three main terms that are used in talking about undocumented students:
- DACA or DACAmented: DACA is short for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It is a federal program that was created in 2012 that allows people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children the right to work, live and study in the U.S. They are protected from being deported and have permission to work for two years, but they must renew their status before their eligibility expires. Currently, the U.S. government is not accepting any new requests for DACA recipients who have not been previously granted DACA status.
- Dreamer: This refers to the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which was introduced to Congress in 2001 but failed to pass. This act would offer people who arrived in the United States illegally a path to permanent legal residency.
- Undocumented: This can refer to a “Dreamer,” DACA recipient or anyone who does not have U.S. citizenship papers but resides in the country.